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Before the Dawn Before the Dawn

By Rebecca Hernandez

Summing up 50,000 years of human history and evolution in less than 300 pages is no small task, but New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade is up to the challenge. In Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, Wade cleverly weaves topics such as language, migration, settlement, race, and behaviour together with genetic evidence to paint a picture of human evolution. The result is a book which is both enjoyable and full of fascinating information.

Wade divides his analysis into discreet sections according to the evolutionary changes in humans. Before the Dawn follows the history of the human race in a straightforward chronological manner, from the first exodus of the ancestral population out of Africa all the way to the present day. Different research areas, including archaeology, anthropology and linguistics, are explored together with more recent genetic findings. The result is a pretty convincing review of the available hard evidence (genetics) as a basis for current theories of human evolution.

Before the Dawn does not hesitate to delve into controversial issues such as the genetic basis for race, intellectual fitness, disease protection and even more gruesome topics such as cannibalism. Wade offers up genetic evidence explaining why Ashkenazi Jews appear to have a higher IQ than other ethnic groups, and why some former cannibals in New Guinea are resistant to prions, the cause of ‘mad cow disease’ or BSE. It’s refreshing to read an author escaping political correctness and laying out scientific facts surrounding these issues in a no-nonsense way.

What is especially appealing about Before the Dawn is Wade’s use of so many different sources, whose ideas do not necessarily mesh. He points out who disagrees with whom, and focuses on ideas that are compatible with genetic evidence. Whether or not this is scientifically valid is something the reader is forced to ponder, but the fact that he at least offers opposing viewpoints makes the book that much more interesting. Ideas from such intellectual heavyweights as Jared Diamond, Noam Chomsky, and Joseph Greenberg all add spice to Wade’s stew of evolutionary analysis. Before the Dawn is a well-written, engrossing read and an excellent overview of the history and evolution of our human race.

Nicholas Wade, (2007), Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, ISBN: 0715636588.

This book is available from the Null Bookshop.  Just click here to buy (no dollars unfortunately).

You might also like to try:
Primates and Philosophers by Frans de Waal
Why don't penguins feet freeze? from New Scientist
Collapse: How Societies choose to fail or survive
by Jared Diamond

Image: al kat

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